How we’re using Product Thinking to solve complex client problems and send ROI through the roof

For us, ‘product thinking’ is simply the ability to allow talented people across client and agency teams to solve problems together, in the interests of the business and the client’s customer.

We believe that developing digital experiences can – and should – be thought about the same way you think about managing your PPC spend; you invest a specific amount knowing that you’ll see a specific, guaranteed return.

Our Digital Business Director, Steve Peters, explains how product thinking is helping us to achieve this for our clients in terms of the three main problems they come to us with.

How can we improve the business performance and the customer experiences we already have?

It’s not always appropriate to rebuild software; sometimes, just tweaking things can have an enormous commercial impact.

Our Performance team consult across a range of aspects related to making the whole system better, including:

  • Data – can we see the end to end customer journey?
  • Technology – what are the client and server-side issues that we need to overcome?
  • Customer insights – what have they told us and what have we observed that allows us to form a hypothesis for change?
  • Design development – what new experiences can we imagine against these observations that we can test?

Case study: Swinton Insurance

We ran Swinton’s existing Car Insurance page through numerous rounds of user testing, content design and data analysis to observe how we might make improvements to conversion.

The main changes we made were to:

  • Strip back the navigation, removing distraction/temptation to browse other pages
  • Remove visually noisy images
  • Include the offer in the main promotion area
  • Add prominent social proof
  • Push users to either (1) call or (2) fill out the form (removing the ‘make a claim’ CTA all together)

Overall this activity has resulted in:

  • 12% increase in quote form start rate
  • 7% increase in calls made
  • 12% decrease in bounce rate

We now run Performance for Swinton as a monthly service, and over a 12-month period, we’ve observed an ROI of 10:1.

How might we move away from an old system to a new, scalable one?

The reality is that most businesses are not in crisis mode; they operate quite well, have decent levels of awareness, consideration and sales. So given the relative success of the existing business and the complex marketing and technology systems that underpin it, why replace everything all at once with a shiny new system that may/may not work harder? It’s a risky strategy – and often an expensive one too.

Leading business including M&S have fallen into the trap of spending millions on building new stuff, only to see a net drop in performance.

So what’s the alternative?

Well, you can start on your marketing and technology ‘transformation’ quickly and creatively – taking the business with you and removing risk as you go. To do this with our clients, we adopt a method called ‘strangler application’ which is the piecemeal replacement of old systems and tools with new ones.

In summary the process is to find where the most valuable elements of the digital estate are from a customer and business perspective, and order all the things you need to do in relative complexity. At the top of the list we should find the most valuable and the least difficult tasks to perform. This top-section is your first batch of improvements (call it 10% of your full list). Your engineers and designers can now decide how to creating a new, scalable design and technology framework for the business.

But it doesn’t end there! Once you have your new 10%, you use IP redirects to keep the URLs the same to affect a seamless journey as far as the user is concerned.

Then we measure the impact of the work we have done, based on the KPIs we established at the start of the batch process. If we see a positive impact, we move onto the next 10%; if we see a negative impact, we go back though user testing and refine the experience until we see the returns we expect.

We have client example after client example of how well this method works. Our full case study on ASDA is a great example of how these techniques not only started to replace the old with new, but introduced radical, creative customer experiences that also demonstrated significant client returns. ASDA ROI is now in the 1000:1s.

We’ve also undertaken a similar programme with Hillarys, who are now observing an ROI of 16:1 based on these methods.

The cornerstones for success here include:

  • Adopting loosely coupled architectures using APIs and connectors to keep things fast today and easy to change in the future.
  • Using the right tool for the job – think carefully before commissioning big box solutions that try to do 15 things brilliantly.
  • Making creative decisions based on customer and business value.

How might we innovate and reinvent our own future?

‘Digital transformation’ is a much-overused term, and I think it’s fair to say that everyone would give you a different interpretation of what this means to them.

For us, this is about the marriage of three things:

  • People – the teams we have and the relationships they build;
  • Processes – the ways things are identified as being important, prioritised and done;
  • Platforms – the tools that drive the business, and fuel the creative customer experience.

Funny, isn’t it, how the ‘digital’ part of Digital Transformation is only actually 33% of the job…

The most difficult part of any software release (at any scale) is undoubtedly the ‘People’ element, because people are emotional, sometimes irrational beings that have different beliefs, motivations and attitudes. So getting your chosen ‘heads of’ together to work differently is actually the biggest part of any digital work.

At Code, we run board-level sessions with client teams to help them to:

  • Agree a shared vision of the future
  • Identify and share constraints and opportunities
  • Prioritise where the business needs the most support (leaving departmental agendas at the door)
  • Get them in the work creating ideas and running Design Sprints together
  • Devise many outputs, so that we can have (as we say) ‘lots of small bets running at once’ to see which route delivers the best outcome
  • Get ideas out of the room and into the hands of customers – within days (not weeks).

Our approach looks strategically at a two-year vision; but also anchors back to today, looking at how we might make a significant impact within a month or two.

Do this, and suddenly that unwieldy, hard to grasp ‘Transformation’ juggernaut is tangible, happening, valuable and exciting.

Our visioning work with CentreParcs delivered a range of outputs, including this 90 second video. It was created for a largely internal audience to describe the future, but also to communicate what will happen immediately.

Clients vary in their ambition to become self-sufficient. Some are happy for us to act as a long-term external partner that brings an external perspective to their business and customer challenges.

For others, we are the internal team they are yet to recruit. In this instance, our job is to facilitate the growth of those teams, even if it means we work towards an exit over a 12-24 month period.

Because ultimately our job is to grow our clients’ business.

If you want to talk more about this kind of approach to transformation, then please get in touch with me.


How we revamped Center Parcs' online booking system